Students Organise First Online Integration Month
Priyadharshini Ravi is a 5th-year Medicine student calling in from her home in England. She is the Liaison Officer in the Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) International Student Association (ISA). Joining her are 4th-year Pharmacy student Elizabete Paula Valguma, the Head of Internal Cooperation & Human Resources at the RSU Student Union (SU), and 2nd-year Medicine student Lāsma Ludborža, Assistant to the Head of Internal Cooperation & Human Resources at the RSU SU. Together, the three students planned and implemented the first online Integration Month at RSU.
How would you sum up what Integration Month is about?
Priya: The main aim of Integration Month was to showcase the diversity of all the students at RSU. There are so many different students here from all over the world!
Lāsma: Yes, it was to get people more aware of the student body, to show that we are very diverse.
Who initiated this year's Integration Month?
Lāsma: We initiated the idea, and then we reached out to the RSU ISA, which is how Priya got involved.
Priya: I was invited to the first meeting with Lāsma and Elizabete, because I'm responsible for the national societies at ISA.
In what way did the national societies participate?
Lāsma: We organised two live Zoom events and multiple Instagram takeovers where the national societies took over the SP and ISA accounts to post about their culture. The first of the two events was a cook along with the Italian Society on Zoom. The second was a discussion about fashion.
Priya: We came up with these events together. We asked around which international societies might be interested in showcasing a popular recipe and the Italian Society was very responsive and taught students how to make tiramisu. It was the most interaction we could organise, considering the circumstances. People really enjoyed it!
Lāsma: About 15 students participated in each of the events.
Priya: The fashion talk was a collaboration between the ISA Debates and Conversations Group and the organisation Fashion Revolution. Because of this, we were able to get a variety of students to come in and share their perspectives. It ended up being a mix of both Latvian and international students.
Do you hope to repeat this next year, and what would you do differently if you could organise events in person?
Lāsma: I really hope that we can organise this again next February. I would definitely want to hold one event per week. Maybe more.
Priya: Originally we planned to do a dance class and maybe get the national societies to showcase their national dances, but unfortunately we couldn't get that many people to participate online, so we dropped it. That's definitely a fun and interactive idea that we're playing with. Maybe repeat the cooking event, but in person.
Are you satisfied with participation this year?
Priya: Personally I'm happy, because all the national societies participated, even if it was just to do an Instagram takeover, or send a small video for Valentine's Day. I would have liked more people to come to the workshops and the fashion discussion, but I think we adapted pretty well considering the circumstances.
What is it like to socialise online?
Elizabete: It does get kind of monotonous. You wake up and connect to your lesson at 8:00 and you spend half of the day at your computer, then you log on to another event, like a social event, but still on your computer.
It is precisely because everything is online that you really need to think outside the box. You get motivated to find something that stands out, something that can really get people involved.
The participants of the cooking class, for example, said that it was something new for the online format. They liked it. You have to think of more things like this that aren't just another Zoom lecture.
Describe the Instagram takeovers more. What kind of content did the societies post?
Priya: Each national society was assigned specific days for their takeover. They would then do about 10-12 stories about any topic from their country. The African Association in Riga talked about popular music, the Assyrian Student Association in Riga talked about food. In between we posted Spotify lists of songs. People sent in lists of popular songs from their countries. The US Student Association and the Asian Society teamed up for the entire week of Valentine's Day to share the most romantic movies from their cultures. On Valentine's Day itself, the societies sent in valentine's wishes in their languages. The takeovers were really varied and fun!
How do you three feel after organising the event? Have you accomplished your goal?
Priya: I think we achieved our goal. I think we managed to showcase all the different cultures, and I would love to do it again next year. The fact that it's in February means that the new students coming to RSU can be introduced to the societies and go to their events.
Lāsma: If the event helped even just one person learn more about what national societies there are at RSU, that's great. I know that Latvian students don't know a lot about ISA, so this was a good way to show them the diversity. I'd say we accomplished our goal, yes.
Elizabete: It also definitely showed the cooperation between us and the international students and how even though there are so many of us, we are connected. I would love to repeat this next year and am already thinking of ideas.
What is the next event you are looking forward to?
Elizabete: A similar event coming up is Breaking Barriers, but it is still searching for an organising team.